Australian legend Tim Horan has urged Rugby Australia to be careful with any moves to walk away from the Super Rugby competition and run its own Australian-based tournament.
The chairman of RA, Hamish McLennan, has told his New Zealand counterpart that next season’s Super Rugby Pacific could be the last, with RA considering a domestic competition in its place.
The relationship between the two nations has been strained since 2020, when New Zealand argued an eight team competition should include just two Australian franchises.
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That was followed by a lopsided 2021 Super Rugby trans-Tasman tournament, when the top five spots were filled by New Zealand teams.
Speaking on Stan Sport’s Rugby Heaven, Horan said both sides need to consider the long-term implications of such a move.
“I think we’ve got to be really careful with this,” Horan said.
“Hamish has just thrown a hand grenade, but we need the All Blacks, they need us as much as we need them.
“How are you going to have a competition with five Australian Super Rugby teams? You’d get sick of playing each other.
“The fans are just starting to get an understanding of where the calendar lies, and where the table is with 12 teams, with Fijian Drua and (Moana Pasifika).”
Former Wallaby Morgan Turinui was more open to the idea.
“It’s an interesting one in terms of timing, I had a chat with Hamish this afternoon, the Rugby Australia board has discussed it, the Super Rugby teams are behind these discussions,” he explained.
“The key is RA and rugby in Australia need to continue to look at what’s best for Australian rugby.”
Turinui pointed to the Super Rugby AU competition, which drew a crowd of 41,637 to Suncorp Stadium for the 2021 final between the Reds and the Brumbies.
“The success of Super Rugby AU was a real watershed moment in the thinking of the game,” he said.
“There was survival around COVID-19, there was disappointment in the relationship with New Zealand Rugby, with New Zealand saying they only wanted two Australian teams in Super Rugby.
“From that has come this year’s Super Rugby Pasifika which I think we can all agree has been quite successful and encouraging.”
With Australia due to host the World Cup in 2027, followed by the women’s tournament two years later, Turinui said now is the time to at least explore different options.
“It’s about what looks best for Australian rugby from here until the 2027 and 2029 World Cups,” he noted.
“At the moment we don’t have to be tied to New Zealand. Hamish talked about how he’d prefer to play the All Blacks twice a year and that’s about it, and continue to develop relationships with places like South Africa, who we don’t see in Super Rugby.”
“It’s an interesting time to not just assume that what we’ve always done before works,” Turinui added.
“How’s the last 20 years of Australian rugby been? Why wouldn’t we review? Yes, we’ve been competitive, Australian teams have been better.
“I’ve loved Super Rugby Pasifika, but it is a good opportunity to review what suits our players, our Wallabies team, our Super Rugby teams, and the whole structure of Australia Rugby.
“Australian sport is built on tribalism, AFL and NRL. Is it dangerous to try and copy that? Or should we keep doing what we’ve always done and hope we’re better performed in Super Rugby.”
All Blacks legend Andrew Mehrtens was more cautious, noting that part of Super Rugby AU’s success was due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I think you’ve got to look at the context of how that competition did well. It was necessity, we had to do it, we had to stay within our own countries,” he said.
“People were just overjoyed to have sport occurring, when in their private lives they were getting locked up in their houses.
“I think the success of it has to be seen through that lens. The worry of it, with this grenade, is you’ve got to make sure someone doesn’t grab it and throw it back at you at the same time.”
Mehrtens said both nations need to work together, while still looking after their own backyards. Two New Zealand teams will contest this weekend’s Super Rugby final, with the Blues meeting the Crusaders.
“It’s important for both sides to realise there shouldn’t be any complacency. Australia does have to look after the Australian game, New Zealand equally. I think there’s mutual benefit in working together,” he explained.
“My cynical nature says it’s a bit of a ruse this week. There’s a lot of talk about two New Zealand teams in the final, how do we get Australian rugby back in the headlines this week? Well done, Hamish McLennan.
“Five teams out of 12 are Australian teams, you’ve got the New Zealand five, but then you’ve got Fijian Drua and Moana Pasifika. Do you think they want to exist without a full Pacific competition? You won’t be able to drag them in with Australian teams, they want to play New Zealand teams.”
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